by ROWENA OREJANA
New Zealand’s lay representatives to the Synod on the Family being held this month at the Vatican hope their backgrounds and experiences in raising Catholic families will contribute to the richness of the meeting.
Sharron Cole, who is the CEO of the Midwifery Council and chairs the boards of Parents Centres New Zealand and Rethinking Crime and Punishment, will be an auditor there.
“I’m invited to bring my experience and personal testimony and observations to the discussions. So, it’s twofold: I’m to give an intervention… and also I’ve got a role in the small group discussions after,” she said.
Catholic bioethicist John Kleinsman, on the other hand, was asked to take part by the Special Secretary of the General Secretariat.
“My role is to assist in the preparation of the synod documents and offer advice from my particular area of expertise. So my role differs from the other New Zealand participants who each have the opportunity to make an oral presentation,” he said.
Both said they were honoured and view the invitation as a special privilege.
Mr Kleinsman said it is exciting to be part of such a significant event.
“I appreciate Pope Francis’s efforts to draw together people with many different viewpoints from different cultures to sit and listen to each other and learn from each other while being honest and respectful. This sort of emphasis seems to me to show a shift in the way the Church wants to position itself and in the way it wants to allow teaching to develop,” he said.
“My key task will be to listen and reflect on the views being brought by the different participants. I am aware the concerns coming from countries such as ours will overlap with others, but will also differ in very many respects,” he said.
Mrs Cole, on the other hand, is busy gathering her thoughts and running them past family and friends.
“I don’t come from a formal, theological background. So it’s not for me to try and debate theology with bishops, you know,” she said.
“To me, it’s important to bring my own experience as a Catholic.”
In essence she will say “the Church must be what it teaches and how it teaches. It doesn’t mean to say to change everything,” but it’s “the way you approach your teachings and how you do it and the way you engage people”.
She contrasted having grown up in a male cleric-dominated institution where obedience to the rules was supreme,
with her experience of the Church now, which is more hospitable and inclusive.
“It is the same [idea] that goes around the non-governmental sector of New Zealand, which is my background: If it’s
about us, then not without us. As a woman in the Church, I would be giving them that message,” Mrs Cole said.
Mr Kleinsman said love and mercy are key. “Pope Francis has signalled the need for us to focus more on love and mercy as a key action for the Church in this time. I like that. To use the language of Gaudium et Spes, which is 50 years old this year, it is one of the signs of the times. We are well known for our teaching and rules and now it is time for people get to know us for our mercy and compassion,” he said.
Mr Kleinsman said he will be bringing 27 years of experience as a married man and as a father.
“My family are extremely supportive of my call-up. It is fortunate for me that Kerry, my wife, is able to come to Rome with me to share in the opening Mass for the Synod,” he said.
by ROWENA OREJANA